Genetically Modified Crops

Biotechnology and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food are complex issues. Here we present Unilever’s position on genetically modified crops.

Background

Since its introduction in 1994, genetic modification has been widely used to make food crops more resistant to pests and more resilient against diseases and the impact of adverse environmental conditions eg drought.

Farmers in many countries around the world, including the US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China and South Africa, cultivate genetically modified (GM) crops that have been approved by local authorities. Many of the world’s major agricultural commodities, such as soy, maize, canola, sugar beet and rice, are grown as GM crops and have been safely used for the past 20 years.

In fact, reputable regulatory agencies (such as the US FDA, European Commission and FSANZ) and leading scientific bodies that study the safety of the food supply from both a human consumption and environmental perspective have shown that authorised GM crops and food ingredients produced from these crops are as safe as their conventional counterparts.

Context

The use of GM technology in agriculture polarises opinion. Proponents believe it contributes to yield improvement and hence to food security in the face of a rapidly growing global population. Opponents have expressed worries about negative impacts on biodiversity, public health and the leading position of a few seed companies.

As a consequence, consumer views and acceptance differ across the world. While there is continued concern in Europe, in other regions such as the US, the use of food ingredients produced from GM crops is common.

Next to that, the global regulatory environment is increasingly complex as different rules apply not only to the authorisation of GM crops (in terms of both cultivation and their use in food products) but also to the provision of information to the consumer.

For instance, in the US, where an estimated 70–80% of foods have ingredients produced from GM crops, mandatory labelling is limited to specific circumstances, while the European Union has strict labelling legislation applying to all food ingredients produced from GM crops and a zero tolerance policy to the presence of ingredients that are not authorised in the EU.  

Unilever’s position

Commitment to safety

As one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, Unilever’s priority is to provide consumers with products that are safe, meet all regulatory requirements and fulfil our high standards for quality.

Commitment to sustainability

Unilever is committed to sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020. Under this commitment, we evaluate each of our agricultural raw materials for its potential to conform to the principles of Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code and therefore comply with our sustainable sourcing requirements. Credible studies eg the report on GM technologies from the Council for Science and Technology in the UK, show that, due to their yield benefits, GM crops could play an important role in helping meet the long-term food needs of the world in a more sustainable way.

Commitment to transparency

Unilever fundamentally supports the principle of transparency and the provision of information to consumers who want to know about the use of ingredients produced from GM crops.

In markets where there is a labelling requirement, Unilever will provide on-pack information in full compliance with the relevant legislation.

In markets where there is no regulatory framework for mandatory labelling, Unilever will work with industry stakeholders to support the voluntary provision of information via websites or consumer carelines to disclose the use of ingredients produced from GM crops in food products.

Commitment to meeting consumer preferences

At the heart of our business and our brands is a deep commitment to consumers. We recognise some have a preference for foods made to specific production standards, such as processes that do not use ingredients produced from GM crops. Where feasible we offer, or are seeking to offer, products that meet these consumer preferences.